With new deal, DeSean fully focused on season

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With new deal, DeSean fully focused on season

DeSean Jackson has looked a little lighter during the first couple of days of Eagles OTAs.

After all, he got that monkey off his back.

Jacksons 2011 season started only after he held out of training camp for several days. Later in the season, he was suspended by the team for a crucial game against Arizona for missing a meeting. And, overall, his performance struggled, dipping below 1,000 yards receiving with just four touchdowns.

It all seemingly stemmed from Jackson's wanting a new contract, a contract which he finally received in mid-March. The deal is worth 46.75 million over five years, including 15 million guaranteed.

Its just good to be able to focus on football a little bit more, Jackson said on Wednesday, the second day of Eagles OTAs. The first day of OTAs being this week and practice Its a good feeling to be out here with the guys and just feels like a new energy.

Thats the new, more mature Jackson talking. After signing his new deal, he expressed regret in the way he handled his contract situation last year, and claimed hes a more mature version of himself.

Jackson is a cornerstone for the Eagles' offense, which ranked fourth in the NFL in yards per game last season, and the team certainly needs him. So have his teammates sensed that Jackson has put last year in the past and is ready to go?

He better be, fellow receiver Jason Avant said. Thats our expectation of him. He got his contract and hopefully hes a pro and he will be the player that he is and play as hard as he knows how to play. And I think if he does that well be fine.

Aside from just being the type of Pro Bowl player and big-threat receiver hes become, Jackson has also taken it upon himself to become a leader of the offense.

The contract is good, but me being a leader has nothing to do with the contract, Jackson said. I just want to set an example out here for the guys. Weve bonded as a team. I think everybody is really stepping up and being accountable for it.

Its been a long time since Jackson slipped into the second round of the 2008 draft, when the Eagles scooped him up with the 49th-overall pick out of Cal. There were some character concerns back then, which seemed to drop his draft status. And those character concerns appeared throughout his first four years in the league. But now, hes 25 years old. And hes being paid like one of the top receivers in the league.

Being a leader honestly, Jackson said when asked what one area of his game he wanted to improve. Carrying the guys along with me. Stepping up and being accountable, thats the biggest thing this team needs. Myself, Michael Vick, Jeremy Maclin, LeSean McCoy, Brent Celek, these guys, as far as the offense, it starts there. We have to go out there and help our defense out by keeping them off the field and scoring as many points as possible.

As long as were able to lead, everybody watch us. It doesnt have to be anybody screaming, yelling but as long as were out there showing the young guys doing what they need to do, theyll follow.

Jackson is now a leader of the team. But even before he was, he was a major part of one of the NFLs most explosive offenses.

Jackson has 13 touchdowns of 60 yards or more, the most in NFL history by a player before turning 26. He has scored 22 TDs of 30 yards or more and has averaged 58 receptions, 1,024 yards and seven TDs in his four seasons. And, hes one of just five players in NFL history to eclipse 900 yards receiving in his first four seasons.

Teams are now playing against Jackson differently because of his big-play ability and the team has noticed.

Thats all they do, Jackson said. I think we realize that now. This year I just think we need to work the intermediate game a little bit better. Keep em honest.

With Jackson and McCoy having both signed new contracts, and Vick, Maclin and Celek back, the Eagles' offense has the potential to be one of the best in the NFL. They were one of the more explosive offensive units last season, but were plagued by turnovers.

We cant show times of being good and times of being terrible, Jackson said. We have to figure out what it is that we want to do and stick with it. Thats our identity. We dont want to be a team thats known for our ups and downs.

One of the biggest ups of the season came in the last four games. The Eagles, of course, won their last four games of the 2011 season to finish with an even 8-8 record. Many called those four games fools gold, including team owner Jeffrey Lurie. While Jackson said the momentum from those games might not carry over, he did admit that the feeling of hunger the team felt will pay off this season.

I think the biggest thing about our squad is that everybody knows whats at stake right now, he said, from the front office, to the coaches, to the players. I think its a bond that weve created together and its one common goal and thats the Super Bowl.

E-mail Dave Zangaro at dzangaro@comcastsportsnet.com

Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

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Instant Replay: Nationals 5, Phillies 1

BOX SCORE

The Phillies' late-May slide continued in a 5-1 loss to the Washington Nationals at Citizens Bank Park on Tuesday night.
 
Aaron Nola delivered a solid start, but got poor run support. The Phillies entered the game averaging 3.2 runs per game, lowest in the majors.
 
The Nationals scored all their runs on home runs.
 
The Phillies have lost nine of their last 11 games. They are 1-7 in their last eight and have gone from 25-19 and two games back in the NL East to 26-26 and 5½ games back.
  
Starting pitching report
Nola went six innings and allowed two runs, both on solo homers. He walked one and struck out six. He is 4-4 with a 2.88 ERA.
 
Washington right-hander Joe Ross (5-4) pitched a strong game. He gave up just three hits and a run over seven innings. He walked two and struck out five. Ross has given up just two runs over 14 innings in his last two starts.
 
Bullpen report
Jonathan Papelbon closed it out for the Nats in a non-save situation.
 
At the plate
The Phillies had just four hits. They have been held to two or fewer runs 20 times in their 52 games.

Cesar Hernandez tripled home the Phillies' only run.

Jayson Werth and Daniel Murphy accounted for the Nationals’ first two runs pair of solo homers against Nola. Danny Espinosa smacked a two-run homer off Colton Murray in the ninth and Stephen Drew followed with an inside-the-park homer.
 
Murphy also singled in the game. He had 47 hits in the month of May, tying a Washington/Montreal franchise record that had previously been shared by Al Oliver and Marquis Grissom.

Lineup stuff
Mackanin was trying to send Hernandez a message by batting him eighth (see story).
 
Bryce Harper did not play for Washington. He was hit on the right leg by a pitch in Monday night’s game.
 
Slumping Ryan Howard started at first base and went hitless in three at-bats to fall to .154. He hit .101 (7 for 69) in the month of May.
 
Howard will not start Wednesday night against Max Scherzer. He is 1 for 18 with 11 strikeouts against Scherzer. Tommy Joseph will start that game.
 
Minor matters
Cody Asche’s minor-league rehab stint expires Wednesday. He could rejoin the team at any time.
 
Up next
 The series concludes on Wednesday night. Lefty Adam Morgan (1-3, 6.67) pitches against Washington right-hander Scherzer (5-4, 4.05).

Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

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Drexel alum Ken Tribbett enjoys 'special' week for Union

CHESTER, Pa. — For more than a month, Union center back Ken Tribbett waited patiently on the sidelines, hoping to get the starting spot back that he had and then lost.

Last week, he indeed got back on the field … and then some.

After Joshua Yaro separated his shoulder in Orlando on Wednesday, Tribbett proceeded to notch his first MLS goal and assist, before playing the full 90 minutes in front of 30 family members in his home state of Colorado on Saturday.

It was quite the eventful week for someone who wasn’t expected to play at all during the road trip, let alone accomplish a couple of emotional milestones.

“It’s an unbelievable feeling,” Tribbett told reporters from Tuesday’s training session after the Union returned home following hard-fought road draws vs. Orlando City SC and the Colorado Rapids. “For me, being out a month, mentally I had to make sure I stayed tuned in. And when I got my chance, I stepped in and was ready to go.”

Even if you are mentally prepared, it’s still not an easy thing to step in at center back in the middle of a game, considering that’s a position that rarely gets changed. Making things even more difficult was the fact that Yaro, who took over starting duties after Tribbett rolled his ankle in April, had been looking every bit like the No. 2 pick in this year’s draft.

“Josh was playing a great game in Orlando,” Union head coach Jim Curtin said. “If you go back and watch the tape, he was one of our top performers. Ken stepped in at the end of the first half, which is challenging at center back — not a position you like to sub at all. But Ken came in pretty seamlessly and got the goal, which is a bonus, obviously.”

You can call it a really big bonus.

Tribbett was never expected to even be in MLS this year after failing to get much notice following a standout career at Drexel.

And he certainly wasn’t expected to log much playing time this season with the Union, who added Yaro and Anderson, a Brazilian, to a position that already featured a rising star in Richie Marquez.

So surprises are nothing new for Tribbett, who started the first five games of the year after soaring up the depth chart in the preseason and now has a goal to add to his unlikely MLS resume.

But it’s no surprise to him.

“I don’t think shock is the right word because I expect a lot of myself and I expect to score a couple of goals this year,” Tribbett said. “So it was just more relief to get the first one out of the way. Any time you score, it’s jubilation, so that was awesome. And to tie the game in Orlando after going down 2-1 was really good for the team, so everything about it was just a special moment.”

Tribbett, who also had a secondary assist in Orlando, enjoyed another “special moment” just three days later when he got to play in the Denver area where he grew up. That was not something he could have imagined after his circuitous journey took him from Colorado to Drexel to the USL’s Harrisburg City Islanders and now to the Union.

“That was probably a moment I won’t ever forget,” Tribbett said. “I had about 20 or 30 family members there, and for a lot of them it was the first time they’ve seen me play professionally. So being back home in Colorado was a special feeling.”

Although the Union backline stayed organized and surrendered only a couple of shots on target in Colorado, Curtin did say it wasn’t the best performance from Tribbett. But the Union coach is ready to lean on him again for Wednesday’s game vs. the Columbus Crew at Talen Energy Stadium (7 p.m./TCN) while Yaro gets an MRI on his shoulder.

“He did fatigue at the end and I talked to him about it,” Curtin said of Tribbett. “He had a couple of little mistakes toward the end of the game. Part of that is your legs starting to fade. But it’s good for him that’s under his belt. He’ll be ready to go now [Wednesday] for the full 90 minutes.”

With the Union idle for two weeks following Wednesday’s game because of a Copa America layoff — and Tribbett’s place in the lineup uncertain from there — the Drexel alum is certainly excited to get back on the field for his first home game since April 8.

“It’s a very important game,” Tribbett said. “We want to go into the break with certain goals for ourselves. We want to be at the top of the conference, and if we win, we’ll achieve that goal. We want to keep one goal per game [allowed]. Right now, we’re one off that, so if we get a shutout tomorrow, we’ll be right back on track.”

Pete Mackanin sends Cesar Hernandez a message

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Pete Mackanin sends Cesar Hernandez a message

Pete Mackanin dropped second baseman Cesar Hernandez to eighth in the batting order for Tuesday night’s game against the Washington Nationals.

“If you want to call it a message you can call it a message,” Mackanin said.

Hernandez entered the game hitting .255 with a .616 OPS. Last year, he hit .272 with and .687 OPS.

“I expect more out of him,” Mackanin said. “I think he's a better hitter than he's shown. I think he's a .280 hitter and I think he's at .250. I want to see improvement. We need him to get back up to .280, where I think he belongs. He’s got to make adjustments. We need offense.”

Mackanin pointed to Hernandez’s double-play partner, shortstop Freddy Galvis, as an example of a player who has made improvements.

Galvis entered Tuesday night hitting .257 with a .696 OPS. But in the month of May, he was hitting .277 with a .708 OPS.

“Freddy is starting to come on,” Mackanin said. “He’s starting to make adjustments.”

Galvis has also played excellent defense.

The Phillies are a rebuilding club with a number of potential big-league contributors rounding out their development in the minors. The team’s top prospect is a shortstop – J.P. Crawford – and he’s in Triple A now. It’s not out of the question that he will be the team’s opening day shortstop next season.

Crawford’s eventual ascension impacts both Galvis and Hernandez. Galvis can also play second base. Whether Hernandez or Galvis becomes the second baseman when Crawford arrives could be determined by who hits. This is the time to make impressions.

“That's basically what it boils down to,” Mackanin said. “I've even talked to them about that — 'It's an important year for both of you because there are people who want to be in the big leagues that are in the minor leagues and want to take your job.' You have to approach it that way. You can't let down. You have to stay focused and work hard.”

While all signs point to Crawford taking over at shortstop in the future, Mackanin said Galvis’ defense should not be taken for granted.

“As well as Freddy is playing shortstop, you'd hate to move a guy like that out of that position,” Mackanin said. “It's a defensive position and he's been so good at it.”

Galvis entered Tuesday night with just two errors in 50 games. His .990 fielding percentage trailed only San Francisco’s Brandon Crawford and Detroit’s Jose Iglesias, both .995.